Oct 14, 2011
By Sean O. Murphy
Once upon 1980 in Elmore, Oklahoma, a hundred year old ban on dancing was broken when the graduating class of Elmore City-Pernell High School petitioned for permission to dance at their prom. In 1984, Hollywood bought the movie rights to the story, danced a little around the facts, and cast a young, Kevin Bacon in the original “Footloose”. It is a story that I could almost have taken for a fairy tale if the row immediately behind me at the 2011 “Footloose” reboot I saw wasn’t full from one end to the other with the real life “kids” (now approaching their half-century mark) that the two movies were based on. It would probably sound unbelievable to the teens of today that something as irrepressibly spontaneous and fun as dancing could ever be made illegal even here in the buckle of the Bible Belt but such are the events that inspired two films.
In the most recent version of this story, a tragic car crash kills five teenagers after a weekend dance party. That tragedy leads the city council of the fictional town of Bomont, Georgia to bring a strict curfew on the town’s youth and a ban on public dancing. The push for a ban is lead by the town’s preacher, Rev. Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid) who is in grieving for his son, the driver in the car cras. As the catalyst to the new town rules, Moore becomes the authoritarian father figure not only to his own daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough) but to the entire town. Ariel, in rebellion of her father’s strict rules and overprotective attitude, takes up with a bad boy stock car driver played by Chuck Cranston (Patrick Fleugur).
Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) is the new boy in Bomont. He has moved from Boston to live with his aunt and uncle following the death of his mother. He is grieving the loss of his mother and trying to fit in to a new school and town. Ren is a gymnast and dancing is the way that he blows off steam and deals with his stress and pain. It is a real culture shock when he finds out from his new bumpkin best friend, Willard (Miles Teller) that his main source of therapy is outlawed in Bomont. The grieving newcomer finds himself attracted to Ariel and is inspired by that attraction and his love of dancing to take on Rev. Moore and the city council’s ban on public dances. He also takes on Ariel’s current beau, Chuck in a bus race and an inevitable brawl.
The new movie is a faithful adaptation of the first “Footloose” with call-backs to the original, like the the yellow VW bug, Ren’s pompadour and skinny tie that he wears on his first day in school, and of course Ariel’s red cowboy boots. The soundtrack is filled with suitable retreads of 80’s retro and entire lines of dialogue are lifted directly from the original. As a diehard fan of 80’s teen movies, it is a close call to say which film I enjoyed more.
Wormald is no Kevin Bacon. He is a bit stilted in some of his dialogue scenes but he really knows how to let his body do the talking in the dance scenes. Hough performs with acting agility and can really cut a rug herself. Quaid is making a habit of playing fathers in faith-related movies over the last year. He is a reliable actor that plays the role more sympathetically than John Lithgow in the original. It is Teller as Willard that provides most of the humor and fun to the film. As a fan of Chris Penn, it still isn’t difficult to say that this role has never been played for more laughs.
“Footloose” will never face the charge of being considered serious filmmaking. But if being fun and a popcorn crowd-pleaser is against the law, then lock away the reboot and throw away the key. Nostalgia for the original doesn’t hurt but this new take on the tale doesn’t need much help with a fresh cast backed by some veteran talent. Director, Craig Brewer (“Hustle and Flow”) supports a fresh vision with enough callbacks to the feel of the original without ever becoming completely dependent on that movie. It is telling that the people who were the inspiration for both films gave this movie a standing ovation.
Even at nearly fifty, it is still their time to dance.
If I can be disappointed in anything, it was that there were no cameos from the original. I wanted a little more help playing the six degrees of Kevin Bacon.